Michelle Donegan is a tech writer who has covered the communications industry for more than 25 years on both sides of the pond. Having worked for various industry titles, including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and Light Reading, she specializes in mobile network technology trends.
Vodafone is working on how to make flying taxis and delivery drones a reality in Europe. The operator’s German unit has partnered with EHang, a Chinese company that develops autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology (a.k.a, flying cars and drones). Together, they plan to build an urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem in Germany and roll it out across Europe.
Examples of UAM vehicles are drones that deliver small packages and taxis that transport passengers in densely populated cities. Controlling the AAVs safely and efficiently requires extremely reliable, high-speed communications, which makes it a prime use case for 5G technology.
Under the terms of the new agreement, Vodafone will be the exclusive connectivity partner, providing SIM cards to the EHang’s AAVs in Europe. And EHang will be Vodafone’s exclusive UAM partner.
Vodafone’s network will enable passenger and logistics AAVs to communicate with the command-and-control centers that operate the vehicles.
EHang Founder, Chairman, and CEO Hu Huazhi, said: “Every AAV requires digital connectivity to ensure the coordination of air traffic, so fast networks like 5G are critical to enabling sustainable pilotless air travel and freight delivery systems. 5G is also a key infrastructure component for the commercial deployment of AAVs, since it enables take-offs and landings that are precisely controlled within centimeters.”
The partners hope to collaborate on AAV test flights once the regulatory framework is in place. Beyond that, the companies also plan to work together on developing platforms for delivering streaming content to AAV passengers in flight.
Testing drone safety in UK
Vodafone is also involved in AAV initiatives in the UK. As part of the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT), Vodafone is providing 5G technology as well as 4G connectivity to test beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) flying for drones at a test flight facility in Bedfordshire. The project leverages 5G technology to track all aircraft in the area so that drones and manned aircraft can safely share the same airspace.
The 5GRIT program is also testing 5G-enabled drones for smart farming by monitoring crops and livestock via video data collected from drones.
Whether in rural agricultural areas or densely populated urban environments, 5G could take drone technology to new heights.